A carte de visite ("visiting card" in French; today often called a CDV) is a small, card-mounted photograph in a
format patented by early French photographer Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi in 1854. These images,
about 2 1/2" x 4" in size, became extremely popular in America in the 1860s. The majority of the millions produced were portraits. CDV images are enthusiastically collected in many categories, including Civil War soldiers, outdoor views, animals, occupations, buildings and advertising.
I was attracted, years ago, not to the photographic images on the front but to the photographers' "backmark" imprints
on the reverse. At first I sought the very elaborate later cards simply because they were visually striking, but over time became interested in the full spectrum of backmarks, from the extremely plain (my most simple bears just one word, the photographer's last name, printed in tiny, centered UNINKED "agate" type) to ordinary functional typography to elegant typography to elaborate advertising. I especially like cards with custom portrait cuts of the photographer, his traveling wagon, his studio exterior or his studio interior. And I like the weird and wonderful backmarks that occasionally surface. There were also a very few woman photographers in that era, and their cards too are of special interest.
Although carte de visite translates as "visiting card", these are not to be confused with the social visiting cards of the era, small printed cards which visitors would leave in a front foyer receptacle when making a social call. On the other hand, CDVs were often used to serve the purpose of a social visiting card, because, due to the wonders of modern Victorian technology, a person could present and leave behind his or her actual photographic portrait! CDVs were also swapped. Special albums made to accomodate the CDVs of family members, friends and/or celebrities of the day adorned many a Victorian parlor.
Small tinype (a photographic image on iron or steel, never tin) images were also mounted on CDV-sized cards.
They were mounted on the back, viewed on the front through an oval or other-shaped hole though the card.
The tintype was secured on the back with a pasted label or some other scrap of paper. Some were printed labels with photographer information, just as on CDVs. In other cases, photographers used pieces of paper cut from whatever disposable ephemera was at hand . . . newsprint, wallpaper, printed broadside or just plain paper. Many of these are of considerable graphic interest.
Beyond graphic interest, CDV backmarks are useful in tracking typesetting practices through the 10-20 years CDVs were in vogue (including the popularity of various mortised stock cuts), tracking the geographic moves of specific photographers, sorting out various partnerships, identifying studio buildings, etc.
Stereoviews sometimes have photographer advertising on the backs, too.